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DNC chairwoman discusses timing of Saturday debate

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke before a Democratic presidential primary debate last month in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

A Q&A with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz before Saturday's Democratic debate.

(Edited for length)

Pindell: Why is this debate scheduled on a Saturday night six days before Christmas?

DWS: Well, we have six debates, and five of the six are on broadcast networks, which typically have a more significant audience than cable and are also more accessible because they are free over the air. The network's flexibility in terms of their programming during the week is typically as not as flexible as cable networks, and comparably just like the Republicans their network debates fall on a Saturday, they have far fewer of them than we do. So this is when the availability was for the networks, and we have three of our debates on a Saturday and three of our debates during the week.


Pindell: I can understand in theory when you are scheduling these debates that could be the case, but your CNN debate had 15.3 million viewers and the last debate on a Saturday had 8.5 million on CBS. Was that a mistake when you were looking back on the scheduling?

DWS: As I said, we have five of our six debates that are on a network, a broadcast network, we have less flexibility when dealing with a network in terms of when and how they are able to move their programming around and exactly like the Republican broadcast network debates, three of our debates are on a Saturday due to network flexibility or lack of network flexibility, and that was the case of the Republicans as well.

Pindell: But why not schedule it between the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary as has been historically done, and when voters are actually tuning in? Why not on that Saturday?

DWS: Because we have a variety of competing calendar issues, and this was when we were able to get it scheduled between the network and the candidates and all parties involved. We made a decision that starting in October have one debate a month, and that's the schedule we are proceeding with. And also keep in mind that we have three candidates -- we started with five. The Republicans started out with 17 and now have 14, so proportionally it makes a lot more sense that we have the six debates that we do. We felt very strongly that number one, that the national party, like the Republicans also did, be able to keep a handle on not allowing the debate process to get out of control. This is the Democratic Party's presidential primary, and we want to be sure that it is our party that is driving the debate schedule, allowing the candidates to be able to appear in a variety of forums so that voters can get a close look at them. So we added, which was always our intent, candidate forums so that candidates could be seen in that type of format as well as the debates, while giving them the ability to campaign in the early states like New Hampshire. If there is any state in the country that prides itself on kicking the tires and voters getting a close look at the candidates, you know, meeting them in person, then the more debates we had then the more they will be off the campaign trail. That was not conducive to making sure the candidates have access to voters.


Pindell: Reince Priebus said that with regard to Iowa and New Hampshire there shouldn't be any "sacred cows" as to the primary process or the order. Do you agree?


DWS: No. We believe that the four early primary states are appropriate and the early primary process is an opportunity, like I said, which is why we have a schedule that allows for that up close look.

Pindell: On issues the campaign has moved away from economy and jobs to terrorism and national security. Why is this a good thing for Democrats?

DWS: First of all, the situation in terms of our security concerns are not a good thing for anyone. Obviously, we want to know that you are able to keep Americans safe. I wouldn't use the term "good" when it comes to the concerns that about keeping Americans safe and our security interests. That having been said, because comparatively because our candidates have focused on a much more appropriate definition about what security means for Americans contrasted with the Republicans [at the Las Vegas debate]. Frankly James, if I had closed my eyes and listened to that debate with those candidates I would not have realized that I was listening to candidates for the presidency of the United States of America because their entire discussion was more like a discussion on who could be the best autocratic dictator. It felt like they were running for the presidency of an authoritarian regime. That is not what the American people want.


Pindell: In terms of Donald Trump, he has taken the pledge in South Carolina that he would not run as an independent. At the last Republican debate he said that he would not run as an independent. Do you think there is a shot that he will still do that?

DWS: There is not a lot that Donald Trump says that you can really believe. He has consistently been untruthful so from my measurements his words are just that. They are words. He doesn't really seem to have a commitment to the truth, so who knows. He could certainly change his mind tomorrow and deny that he ever said that and not be held accountable for that denial by his supporters. If I were my counterpart I wouldn't breathe a sigh of relief by any stretch of the imagination.